“Discrimination is Dead”… Really?

Another incident of discrimination has occurred at Clark College — this one involving racist and dehumanizing graffiti carved into a bathroom stall. A Clark College security guard was notified of the hateful act on June 9th, 2017 and the college is still in the process of removing the slurs.

The stall where the racist slurs were carved out, discriminating against people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and religious beliefs. This stall was temporarily out of service until the racist slurs were removed. Photo by Stevie Riepe

This latest hate-based incident is proof that Clark students and staff face discrimination in ways both large and small just because some people can’t accept them for who they are.

Clark has a diverse student body, encompassing different types of sexualities, ethnicities, religions and more. The United States itself is very diverse. The country’s population is 321.4 million and roughly 150 million of them are marginalized.

Matty Guard — one of many Clark students who identify as a minority due to being a gay and biracial — said the diversity on campus makes him feel safe. Guard’s mother, who raised him, is white, while his father, whom he never met, was black. Guard, 19, said it was difficult for his mother to understand the feelings he and his sister had while growing up, because they’re part African-American and she isn’t.

When Guard was in middle school, he said he experienced the greatest amount of racism. He had a 6th grade literature teacher who told him she failed him because he was black, he said.

However, Guard said he experienced more backlash from his family and peers for his sexuality than his race. In middle school, he only told one person about being gay. But eventually, everyone found out and he went back into the closet, denying that he was gay. He also had an aunt who expressed strong disapproval of his sexuality due to her religion.

“It was like this new hate,” said Guard. “I didn’t really know about it or want to face it. I thought it was wrong to be gay.”

Guard officially came out when he went to high school. He said he didn’t know of many gay African Americans and felt people looked at him as less human. Guard said he is no different from those who are Caucasian and straight, but realizes some people will continue treating him differently.

“I always saw the best in people, but that’s not always the case (the other way around),” said Guard. “People aren’t always nice. I realized I needed to start growing up and realizing the world for what it is.”

Guard said that he hasn’t seen a huge issue with discrimination on Clark’s campus. He said there were a few incidents here and there, but because of the diverse group of people on campus, the college is a safer and a better place for him than his other school experiences.

Clark College student Luc Hoekstra, who identifies as transgender, disagrees: he believes discrimination does exist on campus. The 22-year-old said his classmates are more disengaged with him than with the average student. Hoekstra believes it’s because people aren’t sure how to talk to him.

Hoekstra first realized his true identity when he was 17. Since he came out as transgender, Hoekstra’s family has been mostly supportive, he said, except for Hoekstra’s grandmother. Hoekstra, who has identified as trans for five years, has grown to understand that not everyone will accept him for who he is.

However, Hoekstra still does get irritated when people mis-gender him. Hoekstra said it feels “like a stab to the heart.” He said some people just don’t care and will call him whatever they want, without regard to how he feels.

“People that know I’m transgender have a lot more responsibility,” he said. “People that don’t know, you can just chalk that up to ignorance. But people that do know should be a lot more respectful to calling me by who I identify as, because they know.”

This blatant disrespect faced by non-dominant communities is one of the issues that’s challenging for Kawther Elolaimi, a graduating student at Clark who identifies as Muslim. Elolaimi, 18, said that when something bad happens, Muslim students are often blamed just because they’re Muslim.

“It makes me believe people are susceptible to anything,” said Elolaimi. “They hear something and they believe it without questioning it. I wish people would take the time to educate themselves more.”

She said the education system is lacking and needs to improve so that students are more knowledgeable when they encounter someone of Muslim faith. Because Elolaimi was the only Muslim girl at her high school, she said students often asked why she wears a hijab. Elolaimi said there was a lack of education among students about what other cultures are like and that this should be corrected.

Felisciana Peralta, Clark’s Director of Student Inclusion and Equity Services, said she has seen many incidents of discrimination during her time at Clark. Peralta, who has worked in the Diversity Center for nine years, is multiracial herself, having Hispanic origins.

According to Peralta and her staff members, after the information about the most recent hateful graffiti messages in the toilet stall went public to students, the Diversity Center was flooded with students who were scared and needed a safe space.

The email Clark had sent out to its students, describing the graffiti incident. Photo screenshot by Stevie Riepe.

Peralta said the general consensus is that acts like the graffiti incident are not cool. She said the college wants students to feel safe and does the best in its power to assure them that they are, but the Diversity Center understands if they don’t feel safe.

Peralta said it’s important to talk about discrimination issues on campus. It’s by talking about them that people become more educated, she said. She added that marginalized students shouldn’t get caught up in comparing who has had a worse situation.

“It’s not about being better or worse,” said Peralta. “It’s about understanding each other’s perspectives and life experiences.”

Peralta said empathy goes a long way when it comes to understanding others. Even though someone may never fully know what someone else goes through, he or she can get a taste of it and want to help. Peralta said it’s about respect and people should understand everyone views respect differently.

“Everyone has their own definition of respect,” said Peralta, “and when we’re able to treat each other according to each other’s definition of respect, we’ll be able to achieve a better future.”